Many students are uncomfortable or disinterested in mathematics. For some students, math can be monotonous, boring, or confusing. But for some students the thought of doing a math problem causes severe negative emotions that can lead to anxiety or depression. These reactions can get in the way of the student doing any type of math problem or even other school problems. When the discomfort about math turns to fear and fear hinders school performance, this is what is known as “math anxiety.”
Math anxiety has a negative impact on a child’s ability to problem solve / analyze a situation, and can affect students as early as grade 1! If left unchecked, math anxiety can set students back by as much as half a year, when compared to their classmates.
Recent studies have found nearly 93 percent of American adults have felt math anxiety to some level at one point in time or another. Math anxiety has real world impacts. It can even cause people to rack up credit card debt due to a fear of using cash. Adults with math anxiety often struggle to calculate a practical savings plan for retirement. A 2019 study out of the University of Chicago found that people are willing to forgo financial compensation if it means they can avoid math.
Causes of Math Anxiety
Math anxiety is centered on a fear of failure, but there are many different causes and triggers for the anxiety:
- Time Limits/Tests: the importance of deadlines and timed tests can put a lot of pressure on a child. They might be so worried about the passage of time and answering as many questions as possible that they forget concepts they know and have practiced at home. Because the tests results have direct influence on grades, their fear of failure is confirmed.
- Public embarrassment: If a student has been embarrassed or scolded because of a mathematical error in the past they might associate that negative outcome with math. If it happened many times, they might not be able to recall a positive outcome of math and will only look at math with fear because of their “public” failure.
- Outside Influence: Children pick up on everything. If they see that their teacher or parent has a negative attitude about math they will be convinced that math is not something to look forward too and will start to dread doing math.
Symptoms of Math Anxiety
- Unusual hesitation when confronted with a math problem – either as a school problem or “real world” problem
- The student has become so afraid or anxious that they are not willing to try
- The student says or feels that he or she is the only one not able to solve a problem – even if it is a difficult problem
- The student feels like he or she is incapable of improving in math, that they are “naturally” bad at it, and gives up trying
- The student is not confident in themselves to try the problem on their own before asking their parent or teacher for the answer
- The student expresses or experiences panic during a math exam or classroom participation
If any of this sounds familiar or like something your child might be struggling with, you have probably wondered how to help your child. Math anxiety can be very serious and dangerous, and if left unchecked it can even lead to more serious school anxieties and depressions. However, there are some great tips to help your child.
Solutions for Math Anxiety
Luckily, as we enter 2020, there is far more awareness regarding children's mental health, and how we as parents and educators can step up and help our little superstars overcome.
- Positive Reinforcement
Make sure your student feels like they can excel in math. Give your child praise for all the correct answers and emphasize the questions he or she got right. Gently remind them the correct way to answer questions they answered incorrectly but do not make this the focus.
Teachers have great influence on a student’s attitude toward learning but there are benefits of having a one-on-one or small group tutoring that many public schools cannot give in a classroom. Supplementing your student’s math education with a private tutor will give them the time and attention they need to build math confidence.
- Open Expression
Have your student write or express their anxieties about math before doing their work. Do not belittle their anxieties but allow them to see that they are unfounded and easily overcome with practice and positive reinforcement
- Make Math FUN!
There are many ways to have math be an entertaining and engaging part of your child’s day. Allowing your student to see how fun math can be will start to change their views and dispel their anxieties.
Further Discussions :
Choe, K. W., Jenifer, J, B., Rozek, C. S., Berman, M., G., & Beilock, S. L. (2019). Calculated avoidance: Math anxiety predicts math avoidance in effort-based decision-making. Science Advances, 5(11). http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aay1062
Oxford Learning. (2017). What is math anxiety. [Web]. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearning.com/what-is-math-anxiety/
Parker, M. (2019). Hate Math? Your Retirement Could Be at Risk. [Web]. Retrieved from https://www.kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T023-C032-S014-your-retirement-could-be-at-risk-if-you-hate-math.html
Wang, J. (2019a). Math-anxious people avoid hard problems even with cash on the line. [Web]. Retrieved from https://www.futurity.org/math-anxiety-rewards-2219702/
Wang, J. (2019b). Fear of math can outweigh promise of higher rewards. https://news.uchicago.edu/story/fear-math-can-outweigh-promise-higher-rewards